Commentary

Mobile App Surge Is An Opportunity, But Not For The Reason You Think

Research often tells us what we intuitively know. The latest data from eMarketer reported on in Campaign demonstrates the phenomenon that everyone in mobile marketing has been aware of for quite some time. Yes, people are spending a lot of time on apps. The trouble is, they're not spreading that time around -- it is being focussed on a select few, favoured apps.

The result is likely to prompt a turnaround in how marketers see apps. A move away from considering them a valuable resource to win over customers and keep them loyal to admitting other well-known destination apps are far more popular, and perhaps focus needs to be applied to utilising their reach.

First, the figures. This year, the researchers suggest, time spent on mobile devices will be much the same as last. The average person will spend nearly two-and-a-half hours on mobile apps per day, compared to just under half an hour mobile Web browsing. Within two years, app usage will go up by around a quarter of an hour per day, whereas mobile Web browsing will only have gone up by a single minute. 

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Over the same period, the average person will open one fewer app per month -- 20 rather than 21. Again, the eMarketer researchers warn that attention is not shared equally. The top five that nearly all of us will spend most of our time using is completely predictable -- Facebook, Messenger, YouTube, Google Maps and Google Search.

The further point is that the top 15 apps, according to comScore figures, are witnessing a doubling in attention. If you think about it, that doesn't leave a lot of space for other apps to find traction. To add salt into the wound, the researchers also say that in every niche, there is a massive winner that dominates that category -- Facebook in social, YouTube in video entertainment and Amazon in m-commerce. 

Put simply, the mobile app revolution is unlikely to steer more customers to your door, unless they are already there in the millions or you're about to launch the killer app that will make Facebook look like a minnow.

Far more likely is that mobile app viewing will provide a resource for brands to place content and run advertising campaigns against rather than providing a window through which consumers discover their wares directly. 

It's interesting to see that Timberland has used geotargeting in mobile app display to unearth people who are interested in the outdoors and fashion. Their display campaign not only comes up with an offer, but tells the viewer how near they are to the brand's nearest stockist. The result, Timberland claims, is a 6% rise in footfall at its stores. 

That has to be the future of mobile apps, doesn't it? Nobody would suggest that a brand won't find people will use its branded app, but if we're talking mass market, it's pretty clear that the huge opportunity is tapping into the attention that other services are attracting. The good news here is that, as Timberland has found, mobile is built for proximity marketing.

So the key for a brand may be to not look at its own app usage figures, but to instead tap into the wider opportunity of a small number of hugely popular apps that can hone in on a target audience by location as well as demographics. 

This column was previously published in the London Blog on April 13, 2017.

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